In a DVD extra for his 2006 film “Inland Empire” the director David Lynch said, “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film.” But Lynch’s exhortation hasn’t stopped ex-DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, who’s betting big money that tablet and mobile viewing of cinema-quality content are the way of the future.
The New York Times reports that Katzenberg has raised the first half of a two billion dollar ask for his holding company, WndrCo, from 10 American media companies and Alibaba, the China-based technology titan.
Katzenberg’s venture, which has the working title of NewTV, is intended to disrupt the media status quo by producing videos that only run a few minutes and are designed exclusively for mobile devices. The shorts will have an inflated budget of $100,000 per minute (the standard for YouTube’s highly produced content is roughly a tenth of this, The Times reported last year). NewTV’s bite-sized movies are planned to boast Hollywood-level production value, big name stars and strong narrative arcs. Think the best of the Pixar shorts but with recognizable talent attached.
“We keep coming up with new ways to exceed the expectation of our customers,” Katzenberg told The Times, referring to the consecutive viewing revolutions of cable, DVDs and streaming. “Except now, for the first time in history, we have a whole generation of customers that have a new consumption habit, with this thing called short-form content. And the professional enterprise of storytellers in Hollywood is nowhere near it.” The model Katzenberg has in mind for NewTV is less YouTube and more HBO, relying on paid subscriptions. However, the platform’s not meant to challenge the likes of HBO and Starz, Katzenberg stressed, as it’s targeting an audience in search of a quick fix of entertainment while waiting in line at the post office, sitting at a coffee shop or taking the subway to work.
NewTV has yet to announce its programming, but among its partners are Hollywood studios Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 21st Century Fox and his alma mater, The Walt Disney Company, each of which bring a wealth of proven properties with them. Interestingly, these legacy names and the promise of a shorter format suggest the early days of film updated for a pocket-tech world.
With Disney onboard, it’s likely a high-end “Steamboat Willie” remake starring Mickey Mouse is coming to an iPhone screen near you.
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.